Courting Lifetime of Memories

January 7, 2019 GMT

By Scott Shurtleff

sshurtleff@nashoba valleyvoice.com

BOSTON -- It wasn’t so much the games between Westford Academy and Groton- Dunstable that had players, coaches, families and fans revved up.

It was the venue.

The biggest stage for basketball in Massachusetts featured the annual Good Sports Invitational on Sunday and two local schools began a rivalry as both the boys and girls teams battled on the hallowed parquet floor, where just days before NBA superstars ran and jumped.

With 17 championship banners and 19 retired jersey numbers hanging overhead like spirits in the rafters, the Crusaders and Grey Ghosts exchanged victories -- the Westford girls took the first game from G-D, 60-55, while the boys saw a reverse outcome, 56-45 in favor of the Crusaders.

Above the big stage, the game played out on the big screen televisions at center court, even in the elevators, play was broadcast, to the delight of parents.

“We told her to just soak up the moment,” Tim and Michelle Smith said of daughter Emily, a forward for G-D.

From the corner where “Bird stole the ball,” or the top of the key where Paul Pierce dropped daggers for a decade, the floor was active with young feet trodding on the footsteps of legends. The players are aware of the history, the charm and the rituals of players who donned the leprechaun.

“I just had to go bang my head on the padded hoop stand,” said Groton-Dunstable’s Abby Eisenkamp, “just like Kevin Garnett used to do before games.”

In the girls game, Westford Academy received a fine game from senior Brooke Pillsbury, who had 12 points, five steals and seven blocks. Also shining for the Grey Ghosts were Jen Martin with 11 points, and Carolyn Graham with nine points and three steals.

“Just standing on the court is pretty cool,” WA coach Russ Coward said. “We got all 16 kids into the game and 10 of them scored. This is something we’ll look back fondly on.”

For Groton-Dunstable, Bronwyn Mulligan led the way with 17 points. Also starring for the Crusaders were Hannah Wynn with 13 points and Nicole Tammaro with nine points.

Whatever butterflies swum around the stomachs of the players were quickly squelched once the action began.

“I grew up loving the Celtics,” said Evan Cook, senior point guard for G-D. “This is like a dream come true finally get the opportunity to play on the same floor as them.”

Cook was unstoppable for the Crusaders, scoring a game-high 21 points. He added five rebounds and five assists.

“He had a monster game,” WA coach Chris Bramanti said. “We couldn’t stop him. He was really fantastic.”

Timmy Stark (10 points) and Brian Scott (9 points) also starred for G-D.

Westford was sparked by Ayrah Purandare, who had 13 points, three rebounds and three blocks, and Michael Zacharchuk, who added five points and eight rebounds.

After the games, the players reflected on the experience, which was enhanced due to play-by-play announcing to the 1,000 or supporters.

“It was amazing,” said Carly Davey, a freshman guard for Westford. “The gym is so huge, way bigger than where we play. My depth perception was off because of how big the place is.”

Although the schools are mere miles apart, they rarely play because they are in different divisions. There were a total of nine games played as part of the sixth annual Good Sports Invitational, whose president Steve Gibbs personally picks as participants.

“I look at the integrity of the programs,” he said of his criteria. “We had Westford here last year. I liked them and asked them back.”

Bramanti asked G-D coach Greg Gillette if he’d like to bring his Crusaders to the TD Garden.

“It was a fantastic experience. It was really special,” Bramanti said.

In order to enter a team -- upon Gibbs’ invitation -- players must sell 400 tickets; so that was 1,600 tickets across the four teams in the two schools. Good Sports uses the proceeds to fund clinics, scholarships and a number of other basketball-related causes.